There are heaps of music ed apps out there but I was horrified by how dry and dull the majority of them are. It can be hard work indeed to get your kid to practise his/her instrument after the initial excitement has worn off, so any apps that are available to help out need to make the often boring repetition as interesting as possible. And iOS devices are ideally suited to do this!
So...with this in mind, here is my list of the most enjoyable music education apps out there at the moment.
Having taught recorder for over 10 years to primary school students, I've appreciated that this instrument can double as a torture device. This app has rekindled my excitement for teaching it. Recorders are cheap and easy to acquire and most of us with small children have one in our homes. This app will teach your child the basics of playing the instrument without them realising they're learning. It's cleverly designed so that the games are played by actually playing the recorder. Pure genius. Play notes on the recorder to avoid obstacles, collect bonuses and scare away evil birds, it makes the recorder fun to play and learn.
Though this app doesn't teach you to read actual music, it is a super-fun introduction to playing the piano and gives a familiarity with following the music on the staff as you play. It's also from JoyTunes, so you can be guaranteed that you're going to enjoy the interface. Joytunes have a new app due out next month which has a deeper teaching aim for piano and I'm really looking forward to seeing it! They recently won the EMI Innovation Challenge and certainly top my list in fun educational music apps. This developer is well worth keeping an eye on.
This sophisticated app is one for older children and adults. There's no cutesy here, but a sophisticated interface which allows real-time selection of multiple video and audio tracks, along with an automatically synchronised score and dynamic graphical note-by-note visualisation of each piece as it is played. The result is an immersive environment for exploring the music and all the instruments of the orchestra. It is visually stunning and well worth the hefty price. There is nothing else even remotely of this caliber on the market. Stephen Fry sums it up beautifully -
“The Orchestra iPad app is mindblowing – follow the music and the score with comments & film of the orchestra playing. Wow.”
I love Stephen Fry. And I love this app.
This one's aimed at the younger crowd and introduces the orchestra and its instruments in an informative and exploratory fashion. Naxos has long been known for providing good quality classical recordings at an affordable price and they've done well with this app. Every instrument has its own page, with a young performer playing a solo. Tormod, the cute little troll host, will show you all these, and sometimes he might even try the instruments himself! He’s only a beginner though (naww!). Tap any words or pictures and hear the text narrated, high quality extracts of music, animations and sound effects.
Creativity Inc make great music apps (don't get Ron started on RokLienz or he'll never shut up) and DoReMi 1-2-3 is a fantastic one for younger (preschool and lower primary) children. Learn songs by ear with pandas and cows and other cute characters while also learning solfege. The verbal instructions are fabulous with just the right amount of encouragement and the interface is really fun, bright and colourful. In the freeplay option your child will learn colours and numbers as well as solfege all while developing their musical ear. This is the only app I came across that uses solfege, which is surprising as it is such a well-established technique for teaching pitch in music. I highly recommend this app for the younger crew.
There is also a free lite version to try
Got a kid who's a-hankering to play the guitar? Or have you always wanted to have a try yourself? Well you can't go past WildChords. WildChords teaches you the most popular chords, and also includes melody and scale exercises for lead guitar playing. The game is played with a real guitar (acoustic or electric), and requires no additional equipment to be played. The iPad recognizes each chord and note you play, and tells you whether you're playing right or wrong. Rescue animals (think a modern Pied Piper of Hamelin) while you practise. This is great fun and teaches guitar basics very well.
This fully customisable app is great for kids to practice identifying music notes by name. Note recognition is done by repetition and can get boring really fast. Flashnote Derby helps make this fun! Each race is a timed test in which the student identifies different notes in order to urge their horse and jockey on towards the finish line. Answering quickly and correctly will cause their horse to gain ground, while incorrect answers will cause it to fall behind. At the end of each race, students can review the notes they missed and see the correct answers. It's a simple app executed really well.
This app is comprised of a suite of simple games to teach music theory and instrument mastery. It uses note recognition technology that listens to the notes learners play and delivers instant feedback on how well they are doing. The note recognition technology is tuned for a wide range of instruments including the piano, guitar, trumpet and recorder. As the player progresses he/she unlocks more levels, so there's lots of incentive to practice here.
This is a very in-depth app which has sequential video lessons that actually teach piano basics. Each lesson gives users five videos that teach core musical concepts regarding the piano. Students either play along at home on their own piano, or use the keyboard included in the app underneath the lesson videos. In addition there are printable pages for most lessons, a tactile reinforcement of the concepts being taught. Each mini-game goes further to teach specific concepts such as key lettering and positioning, pattern and rhythm recognition, timing, and other topics in a fun and interactive manner. So if you haven't managed to co-ordinate getting your child to actual music lessons this is an affordable beginner's alternative.
If you are an instrumental student or teacher, SmartMusic is going to change the way that you practise and play. Your music is onscreen, you can record while you practise along to the built-in accompaniment, you can compare takes, adjust the speed of the accompaniment to suit your ability, transpose the key up or down at the touch of button, it supports just about every instrument (including voice) known to mankind, and even marks success and improvement needed within the practice session. Exhausted? Me too. And that's only covers a small portion of what it can do. SmartMusic is an online subscription service which gives access to more than 30,000 solo and ensemble titles and 50,000 exercises for woodwind, brass, string, and vocal musicians.
BUT you can have a good play with the 15 or so titles that are provided with the free app download to really explore what this program can do! I must admit, I was simply blown away.
Now that's ten, but who can stop there, really? Here are a few more that I've found:
This is a really really great app for practising learning your notes and to improve sight reading skills. It's designed so that it can be used by beginners to advanced students, and for music teachers with multiple students. Apart from actually being fun, the real gem in this app is the ability to choose a clef - treble, alto, grand staff, tenor, bass. Finally, an app for the viola and tuba players in your family!
And there's a free version to try:
Music dictation is something that often gets neglected and I haven't seen another app out there that utilizes it as well as this app. Better for older students with a decent knowledge of musical theory, this addictive music puzzle game covers 16th to whole notes (semiquavers to semibreves), dotted notes, rests and ties, compound time signatures, major, melodic and harmonic scales and modes. It's pretty complex and also pretty darn challenging.
This is cute and hilarious. Yes, I'm easily amused, but so are kids! These blobs help you practice ear training - listen to all the blobs sing their pitches, and then king blob sings his pitch. The aim of the game is to identify the blob that sang the same note as king blob. It sounds easy and starts easy, but you can level up and play with more blobs to make it more challenging. And it's free, yes, FREE. King blob says you're welcome.
I love me a Duck Duck Moose app, and this one is great for musical exploration - it has more substance than most that are aimed at the preschooler market. More about musical exploration than actual teaching, it does introduce the ideas of notes, rhythm and pitch through listening to notes, copying patterns, imitating pitches, and exploring short and long notes and utilizes the musical staff while exploring. Plus the developers use real instruments in their recordings rather synthesized ones, and this is a big plus for me!
If you want addictive and awesome, download this one right now. It's won a heap of awards and as a piano tutor game that is sequential, educational AND entertaining, there is not a one to match it. Be warned though, if you download it you are going to want to buy the in-app purchases and they are worth purchasing, and there is a good chance that you won't see your child for hours, possibly even days.
This is a music creation app - a great way to introduce melodic contour to young children. Draw a train line to connect the colourful buildings and when you've finished, play the tune that you've created. I love the fact that TuneTrain is completely governed by musical rules - the various heights that people live at represent different pitches; the distance between people represent note lengths; and even the buildings show the underlying chord structure that best accompanies a melody. By playing in this world that is governed by musical rules, kids also learn about the fundamental structure of music.
For listening and exploring new music choices, you really can't go past Pandora. I use it without a subscription - there are a minimal amount of ads and they don't bug me, but the subscription cost is small if you decide to go that way. Think of it as a radio station that plays only the genre of music that you love - type in a song name/style/artist/composer and it finds songs in that style to play, radio-style, for your listening pleasure. A music streaming and automated music recommendation service for free? Yes please. If you haven't discovered Pandora yet, get on now and download it!
And before I go I thought I would throw in this excellent online game for those of you who still use your dusty old desktop. I used to use this with my elementary school children and it's wonderful fun as well as a great way to learn about the instruments of the orchestra and Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. Now, if only somebody could convince them to turn this into an app........
Eleanor Holland is a primary classroom music specialist of a gazillion years (or that's what it feels like), currently on sabbatical while raising her children. When she's not wiping snotty noses, she sings with the state opera company, amongst other things.